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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2010

'There's something in the air'

 •  47th Merrie Monarch Festival

By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Mahealani Mika Hirao-Solem, of Hula Halau 'O Kamuela, won the Miss Aloha Hula 2010 title last night at the 47th Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo. She performed to the song, "Ha'aheo Kaimana Hila."

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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6 p.m. today, tomorrow, Kanaka'ole stadium, Hilo

TV: 6 p.m. on K5 each day. Performances also streamed live at www.k5thehometeam.com.

On the Web: www.merriemonarch.com

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HILO, Hawai'i Everyone has noticed it: "There's something in the air," said singer, dancer and composer Kaumakaiwa "Lopaka" Kanaka'ole of Hilo as he sat in the stadium named for his famous relative, Edith Kanaka'ole, awaiting the start of the Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition last night.

Besides the somewhat fraught mood created by the recent deaths of a number of the festival's key characters, Kanaka'ole said, there is an indefinable energy in the dancers he's watched in rehearsal.

"The quality on the whole is above average," he said and, given his prominent hula lineage, he is certainly qualified to judge.

Leimaker Kimo Adams of Kāne'ohe said there was a particularly "chicken skin" period in the performance of the Kanaka'oles' Hālau O Kekuhi on Wednesday when they moved in slow meditation to the chant, almost in the manner of tai chi, but with hula movements. "It was something new," he said.

All week, hula schools have been taking turns for their rehearsal time on the scarred plywood stage. For lovers of hula, it is a joy to watch the kumu working with their haumana (students), cajoling, correcting and sometimes scolding. Sometimes, for a few moments, they dance along with their students to show them how the hands should be held, or what the face should express.

To see the kumu dancing their instruction is the best. It's rare to see kumu dance. One of the most looked-forward-to moments at Merrie Monarch is when, while the votes are being tabulated, the kumu hula come onto the stage and dance some familiar favorite.

This year, however, there will be pukas in that line. Hula master Uncle George Na'ope, who died in October, won't be here to totter up the ramp in his gold lame pants and make magic with his hands covered with oversize rings. Executive director Auntie Dottie Thompson, who died last month, won't be standing watchfully on the side in her gorgeous lauhala hat. And kumu hula Rae Fonseca's hālau will dance without him; he succumbed to a heart attack last month.

The judges for Merrie Monarch this year are Pat Namaka Bacon, Nalani Kanaka'ole, Joan S. Lindsey, Kalena Silva, Alicia Smith, Leiana Woodside and Noenoelani Zuttermeister Lewis.

Online Read Wanda Adams' Merrie Monarch blog and see photographer Rebecca Breyer's photos and videos all this week, at www.honoluluadvertiser.com/merriemonarch